Ohio State Football: Keys for Buckeyes to Beat Penn State in Happy Valley

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Ohio State Football: Keys for Buckeyes to Beat Penn State in Happy Valley
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Urban Meyer's first trip to Beaver Stadium certainly won't be as easy as the Ohio State Buckeyes coach likely thought a few weeks ago.

Spurred by a resurgent offense, the Penn State Nittany Lions are winners of five straight games and actually come into Saturday's contest with the Buckeyes as favorites (per Bovada).

That's a massive change from the Lions that looked lost early in the season and seemed to be on the verge of one of the worst seasons in school history.

Nonetheless, the Buckeyes still have an overall talent advantage and the ability to exploit a few matchups that should lead to victory. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the biggest keys to the Buckeyes coming out on top. 

 

Braxton Miller Must Start

We'll file this under the "well, duh" category, but it'd be remiss not to note how important Miller is to the Buckeyes' chances on Saturday.

According to ESPN's Austin Ward, the Buckeyes' dual-threat passed all of his tests on Tuesday, but head coach Urban Meyer said the team will still prepare for two quarterbacks the Lions during practice this week. 

We’re going to have two ready. Kenny Guiton and Braxton are a little bit different players, but they’re both good athletes so we’ll still have the elements to run the option and do the things that Braxton does so well. Kenny is a great manager, distributor -- he does a very good job, like a coach on the field, getting you in the right plays very easily. 

Considering the circumstances, Guiton looked fine last week against Purdue. As the game wore on, he slowly became more comfortable in the offense, which was not a small feat considering the stakes.

Nonetheless, even the best possible performance from Guiton pales in comparison to what Miller brings to the offense. It's not just his gaudy statistics, but also the threat he imposes on the defense and the insanely higher confidence level the team plays with when he's under center. 

This isn't the timid Penn State team that lost to Ohio and Virginia in the first two weeks of the season. 

Without Miller, the Buckeyes chance of victory decreases almost infinitely. 

 

Create Turnovers From Matt McGloin

Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Perhaps the most shocking part of the Lions' hot run this season has been the brilliance of quarterback Matt McGloin.

After being much-maligned in State College for his ineffectiveness as a sophomore and junior, head coach Bill O'Brien has worked wonders for McGloin in 2012. 

Employing an offense mostly predicated on short and intermediate passes, the senior signal-caller is completing over 60 percent of his passes for the first time in his career and has 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions. 

Nonetheless, there are still exploitable weaknesses in McGloin's game. His lack of zip on the ball sometimes leaves ducks floating on out-routes to the sideline and he still struggles with decision-making when under pressure.

The former is up to McGloin, but the latter is something the Buckeyes can control. If Ohio State gets pressure on the Penn State quarterback, it's highly likely he'll make a mistake at some point.

With the margin between these two teams being so close, one turnover could be the ultimate difference in the game.

 

Stop Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The easiest way to get pressure on a quarterback is by forcing the offense into obvious passing downs. 

To do that, the Buckeyes will have to stop the two hulking Lions running backs, who have been sensational as of late. Using their power to grind teams into a halt, Penn State has been able to set up countless short third-down plays for the offense.

Finding a way to run blitz on early downs and stopping Belton and Zwinak will be necessary to avoid similar situations on Saturday.

While the Buckeyes have struggled in run defense for much of the 2012 season, it has mostly been against the big play. Neither Zwinak nor Belton are guys who can reel off 75-yard touchdown runs at the drop of a hat.

Simply by staying disciplined and filling the gaps, the Buckeyes should be able to make enough headway to make it hard for the Lions offense to succeed.

 

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